I will never forget the night our 13-year-old son came into our bedroom and said, “I think I’m sick.” I immediately thought it was strange he would be telling us this with such seriousness. He continued, telling us that he snuck out to be at a campfire with some other boys in town and had sex with a girl he met. They had beer, and he drank too much, and it just happened. He thought this girl, whose name he did not even know, had “made him sick.”
My head was swirling with questions that no mother would ever think she would have to voice, much less think: Sex? At 13? Sick? With what? Beer? I was trying to figure out when in the world he would have snuck out. Suddenly, I noticed how terribly skinny he had gotten. I realized the timing of all this just was not adding up; he had been losing weight for months now.
When he could hear the disbelief in my voice, he slumped in his chair and started shaking and heaving violently, repeating over and over, “Those ladies, those ladies, I feel so dirty, I’m so sick, I feel so dirty!” He curled into a ball. We tried to comfort him through our shock and his sobs.
As our son slowly uncoiled, the truth unraveled too. “Those ladies” were his friends’ mothers. They were doing sexual things to him in order to bribe him to take money from us. “Those ladies” were prostitutes, and they were using our son. However shocking this revelation was, I was devastated to learn that his promiscuous behavior was a result of years of sexual molestation perpetrated by a male missionary and many other boys who were older. Our son said to us that he liked what those women did because it helped him prove to himself that he was not a homosexual.
The shock of all we were learning was beyond comprehension. All I could say to my husband, over and over again, was, “What happened?”
We would later find out that a network of molestation was victimizing more of our children, as well as others. I was desperate for answers and help. Whom could we tell, and how? The secrets that had so deeply affected our children were too much for us to share openly with even some of our closest friends. Some of our children had allowed the shame and hurt to drive them to relief and escape in unspeakable ways. This felt irreparable, even unredeemable.
We returned to the States to seek help. Our coworkers inventoried our things and sold them all for us. That in itself felt like a punishment for something someone else did to “ruin” our lives and the innocence of our children.
A friend gave me a Women of the Harvest magazine with an article written by a missionary woman, Miriam,* who had a story similar to mine. She told of learning the shocking truth about her husband visiting male prostitutes for years in their country of service. Some of the same painful decisions she had faced were before us. Her children had to pack, close down, and say good-bye to their home and friends; ours did too.
It comforted me to know that there was another missionary woman who had felt the same as I did. “Numb” and “devastated” were perfect words, words which she used to describe all this. I had a hard time even looking at pictures from the past without wondering what was secretly going on at that time. How could I look back on our time on the field with those we loved and ministered to without each memory being clouded by what had happened?
I wrote to Miriam, and she wrote back; we talked on the phone several times. One of the most impactful things she said in the early days was, “Don’t forget who the enemy is.” I struggled with that, seeing the enemy as my friends, the kids, myself, my husband, the coworkers, their children, and the mothers of my son’s friends. I even thought of God as my enemy for allowing such shameful things to occur in our lives. In my mind this was not supposed to happen in our lives, since we faithfully left everything to follow Him.
Miriam encouraged me to come see her, to get help from professionals, and to focus on healing. My bitterness and despair grew even deeper as my kids started leaving home and making life choices that seemed to take all our time and energy. I wanted to agree with the psalmist that “…he will have no fear of bad news. His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” In reality, however, the bad news kept coming—immorality, broken relationships, drugs, alcohol, financial chaos, illegal behavior, jail. The devastation I was seeing in my children’s lives contributed to my feeling that only destruction could come from all this. My involvement in their struggles left no time for me to seek help for my own deeply shattered spirit and dreams.
I was angry at God, and it was obvious. It made me even angrier that I could not really share any of this with my community. Miriam would write from time to time to ask how I was. Ten years passed quickly, and I still had not sought out the intense help I needed. I operated in a mode of survival, trying to carry out my responsibilities in a cave of despair with benign resignation to my constant confusion and pain. How was God going to work this for the good? Again, it felt irreparable and unredeemable. It was clear that the evil one, who is the real enemy, paralyzed me, keeping me from seeking the healing counsel I needed.
Ten years and five months had passed since the night my son heaved in my arms. All my children were young adults, and my husband and I were ministering in another country. I received an email from Miriam, inviting me to come to the Women of the Harvest furlough retreat in Colorado Springs. It seemed impossible to attend, but I wanted to meet this lady whose article voiced so many of the things with which I was still struggling. I talked myself into dropping everything. I learned that I needed to pay only the retreat’s registration fee and that the rest would be sponsored. I could not believe God was providing this desire of my heart that had nothing to do with anyone else; it was just for me, for my mental health and spiritual well-being.
As I walked in the door at the retreat, the first person I met was Miriam! Beautiful Miriam. I cried, thinking of my long-held desire to meet her. She had been my role model. I would look at her and say, “I want to be like that when I grow up!” I wanted to be able to write an article that said, “This is the good God worked through all that,” and have it be with confidence and not shame. I wanted to share the victory with hurting women who needed some deep miracle to survive.
After hugging me as if she could feel all my pain and shame, Miriam and I set up an appointment for a counseling session. This is normally offered at the retreat for one hour, but she offered me two. I walked away feeling like there was hope for me. Finally, I would be with someone who would understand the depths of shame and embarrassment I had lived with all these years.
I opened my retreat folder and noticed a card that was addressed to Miriam—a card provided so that I could write a thank-you note to the person who sponsored me. To my surprise, Miriam had helped with my sponsorship so I could be here! Again, a sense of undeserved, overwhelming hope and gratitude swept over me. God was not going to allow me to continue to struggle with these secrets by myself. He did not want me living in fear and expectation of yet one more tragedy. He wanted me to see redemption.
Miriam’s healing counsel helped me see that even if I do the right thing in following God, bad and shameful things can still happen, but that He will use them in my life to bring glory to Him. I had scoffed at God: how dare You allow shameful things to happen to me or my family! I thought I could define how God would work in my life. I was angry that He was using shameful and embarrassing things to teach my children and me how to see redemption in something so evil. I had let myself think that these kinds of things do not happen to His faithful servants, and I thought that God owed me answers.
I have only begun to understand a tiny bit of the good God intends to bring from my life. I have tasted it through Him placing Miriam in my path. Now I am trying to understand what Hebrews 12:2 means when it says “Jesus despised the shame.” The first five verses of chapter one in Habakkuk remind me to not demand all the answers and to not even want to hear all the questions running around in my head:
The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received. How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence! but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. “Look at the nations and watch— and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”
Even as I fight my inclination to demand answers to my children’s tragedy, I sometimes trick myself into thinking that if I just knew why, or what happened, somehow I would be okay. Yet the hope from Habakkuk is to “LOOK!…WATCH!…BE UTTERLY AMAZED!” at the “something” God is doing in my day. His answer to some hard questions about the destruction present in Habakkuk’s day is the same for me. He says this something is going to be astonishing: “You would not believe if you were told!”
In my looking, I found help through an article. As I watched, the Lord orchestrated a healing friendship with its author. To my amazement, my faithful sister showed me that the questions do not all have to be answered and the shame does not have to be gone for me to tell my story of the goodness of God. I can confidently say I would not have believed Him if He had told me what He was going to do in my hard circumstances; but I can say thank-you to Miriam for letting God work through her and show me His astonishing goodness.
*Miriam Jerome served cross-culturally with her family in Japan for 15 years. She has worked in the area of member care since 2000 and currently lives in Columbia, SC, where she is the Director of Missionary Resources Connection. She serves at WOTH Retreats as a transition consultant and life mentor.
Her article: “Heart Lessons,” Women of the Harvest Magazine, Jan/Feb/Mar 2005. Also includes resources for people struggling with sexual addiction /abuse.
© 2012 Women of the Harvest.